Even though temperatures are relatively mild for this time of year, this is the grind stage of the football season.
Grinding is neither fun to do or watch. It’s also ill-advised to draw permanent conclusions from a lot of players being thrown into the mix and grinding while others, who are injured, are held out of the mix as a precaution to grinding.
The process means this a watershed week for the University of Central Arkansas football, particularly for the offense, — which is being ground to pieces by what on paper could be one of the best and quickest overall defenses in recent history. The Bears hold their second scrimmage Saturday afternoon and, as the coaches pare the roster to fast lane and access road, there is a new sense of urgency. Saturday’s first scrimmage was cut short because of lightning near Estes Stadium and the scrimmage eight days before the season opener on Wednesday, Aug. 21, will primarily be a newcomers showcase with limited action by the frontline players.
It was fortuitous, in a sense, Saturday’s scrimmage was shortened because, from demeanor and body language, coach Clint Conque was about to blow a gasket. As they left the field for safety, one player was surprised when informed of lightning strikes in the area. He told a teammate he thought the coaches were just mad at them. The lightning was obscured by the thunder of the coaches’ voices.
It didn’t take a highly trained observer of football to determine it was a bad scrimmage, punctuated by a seeming lack of energy. There were as many false-start penalties, busted plays and missed assignments as good plays. Some pass attempts appeared more like free throws.
Most of it was painful to watch.
It was easily one of the worst scrimmage efforts I’ve witnessed in Conque’s tenure, who is in his 14th year, Afterwards, he was polite but it was obvious he didn’t want to talk much about it.
Through decades of covering football, I’ve learned at this stage, there’s nothing to either get overly excited or overly concerned about.
Well, maybe a little. Some of the worst mistakes were made by multi-year veteran players.
The good news is there is still time and practice time to get things straightened out — particularly with experienced players who are undoubtedly feeling the heat from frustrated coaches.
At this stage of the season, the defenses everywhere are almost always ahead of the offense. That’s especially the case when the Bears have some of the best depth in recent years.
The UCA defense is playing fast and well.
How good is it? Uncertain because the defense pretty much bludgeoned the offense throughout last week. The main reason is the defensive front and linebackers have been so dominant against a disjointed offensive line. Consequently, the backfield and the receivers are thrown out of sync from the penetration and pressure. There is no semblance of an effective running game because things are pretty much stuffed at the point of attack.
Is the defense that good or the offense that dormant? Offenses under Conque and his staff have always gotten better.
Answers will come when the grinding stops.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)